Do You Know Your Equipment Well Enough To Draw It

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Here is the firefighter’s drawing of the top of his radio. The 
firefighter needs to know where the emergency button is in 
case of a Mayday.


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With a closer look, your firefighter should be able to determine 
that this chain is on the bar backwards.

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This is a drawing of the Pressure Gauge Unit with the 
integrated PASS device. A firefighter needs to know how to 
manually activate this unit. Note the location of the quick-fill 
coupling. The firefighter’s drawing is accurate.

Anything that is routine tends to get boring, including daily apparatus and emergency equipment checks. But we must be diligent in these mundane tasks. You want to be confident that whatever piece of equipment is taken off the rig will be ready for use without any surprises.

Apparatus and equipment checks are similar to pre-incident plans; you do them before the fire happens. They are everyone’s responsibility, but the primary responsibility falls upon the driver, engineer or chauffeur. In Seattle, we use the term driver.

Firefighters come to work wanting to do their best, but being human, sometimes we drop the ball. Pieces of equipment that occasionally get overlooked are the ones that are used infrequently, while some others only get a visual check when they should get a physical check. It’s not good enough for drivers to simply see if the equipment is there.

The vibration of a moving rig shakes things loose, and equipment can shift and bang around. If equipment has fluid levels, swivels, or movable parts and mechanisms, they need to be physically inspected for proper setting and assembly. Drivers are being paid a premium to maintain the apparatus and equipment for immediate emergency service. 

Most of us have been guilty of missing equipment checks at one time or another. Here are some examples that I’ve encountered:
•  Nozzles loose on pre-connected attack lines.
• Gaskets twisted inside nozzles.
• Gaskets missing from couplings.
• Foam eductor reassembled backwards.
•  Containers of foam missing from the minimum inventories.
•  BP cuff missing from the first aid kit (usually left on a patient being transported).
•  Oxygen bottle below 500 psi at shift change.
•  No nasal cannulas in the vent kit at shift change.
• First aid kit not restocked.
•  2 ½-gallon pressurized pump can fire extinguisher under pressurized, not recharged after the last use, or less than 2 ½-gallons of water.
•  Other fire extinguishers under pressurized.
•  Apparatus fuel level below 3/4 of a tank at shift change.
•  No recording cassettes or paper in automatic defibrillators.
•  Discharge ports left open on manifolds, appliances or pump panel.
•  Passport accountability system not updated (name tags).
•  Portable radios or handy talkies not logged onto CAD computers or batteries not changed.
• Battle lanterns with low batteries.
• Chainsaw blade on backwards.
• Low SCBA bottles. 

Every one of these checks could directly affect firefighter safety and the outcome of an incident. Sometimes the reasons for missing equipment checks are legitimate, like constantly being interrupted with alarms (which is really our job).

But sometimes we just become lazy. The company returns to quarters after an alarm at 04:30, the crew’s tired and everyone goes back to bed for the last two hours of sleep. The officer doesn’t say anything because he assumes it will get done. The other firefighters think the junior firefighter will take care of it, and the junior firefighter thinks the driver will do it. And it doesn’t get done. 

The oncoming shift arrives, the bell hits before the morning checks are started, and somebody gets caught short. 

To pull an attack line at a fire only to find the nozzle loosely attached by a couple of threads is dangerous. To fight a flammable liquid fire using foam only to run out of concentrate right before extinguishment is embarrassing. To respond to a CPR call and run out of oxygen or other respiratory equipment that should be there in full complement is inexcusable.

We are professionals, and because we are, we can be held accountable if the lack of equipment maintenance directly contributed to a firefighter or civilian injury or death.

The biggest enemy of having a productive crew is television. The TV is seductive and always competing for our time. Whatever the reason, if company officers notice a slacking off on apparatus and equipment maintenance, they have to be assertive in correcting the complacency. 

Before you start screaming, yelling, and doling out discipline, make sure you have clearly established your expectations regarding equipment checks and who is responsible for what before you start holding people accountable. If you have not established your expectations, any discipline measures may end up backfiring and reflecting on your poor management style instead of the member’s actions. Firefighters like to know the rules of the game. Focus on the behavior, not the individual.

Effects Of Inattention

Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint when inattention starts. As long as nothing is said, the situation slowly deteriorates until something serious happens. Then the blame game begins. If the thoroughness of apparatus and equipment maintenance isn’t important to the captain, it won’t be important to the lieutenant, the driver or the firefighter.

The captain will ultimately be responsible for the readiness of the company. Who needs the guilt of a firefighter injury or fatality that resulted from neglected equipment checks on your shift?

One way to develop pride and accountability within the company regarding equipment checks is to provide challenges and playful competition for the crew. Firefighters love challenges, especially against each other. Consider the following suggestions.

Assemble a chain saw with the chain placed backwards on the bar. Give it to a firefighter and ask if the saw looks OK. I guarantee someone will give it back to the officer and say, “It looks good to me, sir.”

We keep our chain saws, rescue saws and PPV fans in the ready positions. That means the fuel switch is on, the choke is on and the toggle switch is in the start position. Rearrange the positions, and ask firefighters if the equipment looks ready to go. Better yet, have them draw the handle portion of the saws (similar to what they would see in the owner’s operating manual). It doesn’t have to look pretty, but see if they can draw the correct positions of the switches.

Firefighters should know their gear and equipment so well they can draw it for you – unprepared, without looking. There may be times in hot, smoky, zero-visibility conditions where their life may depend on how well they can manipulate certain equipment based on knowledge and memory. Portable radios and SCBA regulators are two examples. 

The Emergency Button

Have your firefighters draw the portable radio with it facing forward, then have them draw it from the top view. Can they draw all the buttons and toggle switches? Can they draw the antenna on the proper side of the radio? Can they draw where the microphone cord attaches to the unit and where the mic key button is? Most important, can they draw the correct position of the emergency button?

Have the members draw their SCBA units, specifically the regulator and pressure gauge unit (PGU). Many PASS devices are integrated into the PGU. They have a manual activation switch that may have to be used in a Mayday situation. The reset button may have to be used to silence the PASS in order for the firefighter to transmit critical information to the IC and the RIT. Then the firefighter has to manually reactivate the PASS. This may have to be done in extreme conditions with zero visibility.

Do the firefighters know the positions of these buttons well enough that they can draw you an accurate picture of their PGU and PASS? Can they draw a picture of their SCBA with the location of the quick-fill system and URC male couplings that are used for emergency transfill operations? Some units have a URC male coupling attached to the PGU as well as near the cylinder valve.

These drawings don’t have to be pretty, they only have to be accurate. Make it a contest. The member whose picture has the most details doesn’t have to do dishes. Maybe the winner gets a Slurpee or a coffee.

When I was assigned to an engine, I had my crew draw the pump panel. If you’re assigned to a truck, have the rookie count how many rungs are on all the ladders carried on the apparatus. Be creative. The objective is to get the crews to physically handle and check the equipment. Once you start the contest, the rest of the crews will try to outdo each other. They will realize you are trying to reinforce good safety practices in a friendly cooperative way instead of a hard disciplinary fashion.

No firefighter likes to be caught off guard using equipment that should have been checked, but wasn’t. There is an expectation that the equipment will function as designed, and the lives of firefighters, as well as civilians, depend on it.

Editor’s Note: Raul A. Angulo, a veteran of the Seattle Fire Department and captain of Ladder Company 6, has more than 30 years in the fire service. He is on the Board of Directors for the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters. He lectures on fire service leadership, company officer development and fireground strategy and accountability throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

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